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According to John Cleese, A Fish Called Wanda was the only film that he actually enjoyed making. And by all accounts, so did the other actors. Jamie Lee Curtis said, “He wanted to make this the most pleasant working experience any of us had ever had.”
The cast even got to collaborate on the project, adding improvisations and their own intuition to help make the movie a box office hit. Go behind the scenes below!
1. Cary Grant gets a shout-out.
John Cleese’s character is named Archie Leach – this was the real name for the very dapper Cary Grant. Cleese said, “I was born 20 miles from where the real Archie Leach came from, and it is the nearest thing I’ll ever get to being Cary Grant.” Grant himself joking felt the same way when he once quipped, “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.”
2. The fish was a killer.
Perhaps inspired by the cutthroat plot, the actual fish committed murder to get into the spotlight. “We had several acting fish that we were planning to try out, but one morning we walked over to the tank and realized that this particular fish had eaten 32 extras,” Cleese said. “We figured that if we didn’t give her the part, she might eat us also!”
3. Curtis was surprised to get the cast.
As Cleese honed his script, he wrote with the other three leads in mind. He, of course, knew Michael Palin from his Monty Python days. He roomed with Kevin Kline for a bit while making Silverado. But he had yet to meet Jamie Lee Curtis. After seeing her in Trading Places, he knew she was right for the part though, and so, he called her. Curtis said, “I remember thinking he was mistaken, and that he must have wanted to speak to Chris Guest [my husband at the time] because This Is Spinal Tap had just come out.”
4. Originally, Curtis would have been the naked one.
An earlier draft of the script had the home owners walking in on a naked Jamie Lee Curtis. However, the actress had a keen insight. She said, “I said to John, ‘If I’m naked, people are going to stop watching the movie.’ They’re going to stop laughing, and they’re going to be just checking me out naked.” She suggested Cleese dress in his birthday suit instead, and he thought that was a better idea.
5. The ending changed.
The original cut had a longer torture scene, showed the squashed dogs, and had a darker ending – one which implied (via shoes that looked like sharks) that Curtis’ character would eventually betray Cleese. Test audiences didn’t approve, and so changes were made to shorten Palin’s torture, take out the poor pups dead bodies, and to give the couple their happy ending. Jamie Lee Curtis, however, wasn’t pleased that the ending lost its “bite”. But the film’s box office changed her mind. She said, “I’ll tell you right now: it’s hard when a movie’s that successful to say that it was wrong to do it.”